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EDITORIAL    Thursday, May 09, 2002         
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IT'S MY TURN: Keep track and field running

By Peter Weith

This spring signals an end to the University of Vermont's Division I men's track and field team. The recent America East Championships were the last time a full roster of men donned the green and gold to compete in UVM track and field, ending a 100-year tradition.

Now, seven months after the announcement of the program's termination, satisfying answers that might explain this decision remain elusive. Let's take a step back.

Over two years ago, UVM's Board of Trustees asked the administration to focus more on the core mission, including athletics. A team of four persons evaluated the intercollegiate offerings and recommended elimination of teams based on six key criteria.

Interim Dean David Nestor has consistently referred to this set of six equally important criteria, against which all 27 sports at UVM were measured. This means that system had to be devised to fairly weigh the 162 variables. Even the simplest assessment of the remaining teams doesn't support their decisions. Teams remain with almost no visibility, limited America East participation, higher costs per participant, reduced academic achievement, fewer participants and less athletic accomplishments.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nestor has not offered to explain the overall "strategy" and how student-athletes are better served by having no sport to compete in versus ones not ideally resourced.

Most of the remaining teams are connected to well-heeled alumni contributors who have made a financial contribution or are likely to make a contribution. Personally, I applaud those alumni or friends of the institution who are making financial contributions.

The problem is the lack of due process, where all teams and associated alumni had an equal chance for support. Well-focused athletic fundraising efforts at UVM have been limited or non-existent in the past. Most alumni donations came from a group of "insiders." UVM's own Framework for Change document states that outside donations should be the first place to go if internal resources or reallocations were not possible. This is not what occurred. Now, UVM has 17 percent fewer intercollegiate athletes, with almost no financial savings.

The athletic department reported that UVM had the fewest scholarships, smallest budget and supported more sports than any other American East program. On face value the rationale for cuts seems clear and defensible. Yet, America East undergraduate body populations range from 3,600 to 16,000 students with UVM at 7,400, so comparing the absolute budgets is not really fair. Six of nine America East schools offer football, a major cost UVM doesn't bear. Were they comparing the current America East schools or earlier versions of America East? According to the definitive Chronicle of Higher Education statistics regarding Operating Expenses, UVM's overall budget is closer to the middle of the America East pack rather than the bottom -- even without considering the impact of football.

UVM track and field alumni are committed to full reinstatement of men's track and field. We are willing to pledge full financial support for the next five years at a level at or above what was provided in the past. This should provide time to regain the confidence of alumni so that a perpetual endowment could be developed that hopefully would augment a realignment of funds from within UVM. To date, there has been little or no interest in this offer from the administration.

Meanwhile the men's track team has continued to train and compete, knowing that they will not give up, like UVM has on them.
Peter Weith was a co-captain of the men's track team in 1976. He is now vice president of marketing and sales at Bio-Tek Instruments.

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